Sign In

Communications of the ACM


The Artificiality of Natural User Interfaces

A. plant, B. lettuce, C. cactus, illustration

Which plant needs the least amount of water?

Credit: Haney and Scott

Toward user-defined gestural interfaces.

The full text of this article is premium content



This article points on some very interesting aspects of what is considered natural in currently used interfaces and also gives the authors' ideas of its further preferable development. I agree with some of the ideas and absolutely disagree with others; I would like to express my point of view in a form of comments to some phrases from the article, so it would be easier to understand the cause of my comments.
1. the history of interaction between humans and computers is full of examples of user's adaptation to designer's choices.
It's not users' choice either to adapt or not; users are forced to adapt. This situation is perfectly described at the beginning of preface to End-User Development by Lieberman, Paterno, and Wulf: You have to figure out how to cast what you want to do into the capabilities that the software provides. You have to translate what you want to do into a sequence of steps that the software already knows how to perform
2. people think and express in a way that sometimes cannot be predicted by designers
Users often think differently from designers but they have no way out of the trap. All currently used programs are designed under the ideas of adaptive interface. This type of interface was definitely progressive 30 years ago and produced fine results throughout the years but eventually, as always happens with any dominant idea, it turns into dogma which prevents any further development. The whole adaptive interface is based on the false idea (never openly discussed with users!) that designers always know what is good for all users in this and that situation and provide selection only between those solutions that they, developers, consider affordable.
3. We believe that, by means of natural interface, people should be able to interact with technology by employing the same gestures they employ to interact with objects in the real world.
Interface of any program is the direct analogue of environment in our everyday life. The most natural and constantly used procedure to change the environment in the office, at home, etc. is to move things around us in order to make our life comfortable and most suitable for tasks at each moment. We move the things around us all the time without even thinking about it. The same idea introduced into the interfaces produces the amazing results. I have written about it in CiSE (July 2011, v.13, Issue 4, pp.79 - 84). Reading is not enough to understand the novelty of such idea; the book is accompanied by a huge Demo application (
4. Unconscious movements can be considered as the most natural ones For example, moving our face closer to a book for magnifying the text can be considered as an unconscious action for zooming, which is more natural than every hand gesture.
A perfect illustration of how an interesting idea (in the first phrase) can be combined with a wrong statement (the second one). For better reading, a lot of older people have to move a book (or a cell phone) not closer, but as far away from the face as possible. As doctors like to describe this period of life, our hands are too short for good reading. So, please, don't base the zooming on the distance between device and a face.
5. Another challenge can consist of augmenting the surrounding environments, not only for recognizing gestures but also facial expressions and body movements (e.g. by employing Microsoft Kinect).
I strongly oppose the use of devices like mentioned above to translate users' movements or facial expressions into commands controlling the programs. It's one more idea of turning a human being into some addition to device produced by one or another company. Microsoft Kinect maybe good for game addicts but I hope to continue my work without such devices. Consider a perfect analogue from another area. Car racers have a very good reason for wearing heavy helmets, but I don't think that everyone else needs such a helmet the moment he grabs the car wheel. Though I am absolutely sure that all helmet manufactures would pray for such legislation.
Thank you for your article.
Sergey Andreyev

Displaying 1 comment

Log in to Read the Full Article

Sign In

Sign in using your ACM Web Account username and password to access premium content if you are an ACM member, Communications subscriber or Digital Library subscriber.

Need Access?

Please select one of the options below for access to premium content and features.

Create a Web Account

If you are already an ACM member, Communications subscriber, or Digital Library subscriber, please set up a web account to access premium content on this site.

Join the ACM

Become a member to take full advantage of ACM's outstanding computing information resources, networking opportunities, and other benefits.

Subscribe to Communications of the ACM Magazine

Get full access to 50+ years of CACM content and receive the print version of the magazine monthly.

Purchase the Article

Non-members can purchase this article or a copy of the magazine in which it appears.
Sign In for Full Access
» Forgot Password? » Create an ACM Web Account